By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed, yesterday, said that the National Judicial Council, NJC, had between 2009 and 2014, punished over 64 judges that were found to have compromised the standard of justice in the country.
The CJN who made this disclosure at a seminar that was organised by the anti-corruption commission of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, in Abuja yesterday, said it was regrettable that allegations about corrupt Judicial Officers and Staff now make headline news on a more frequent basis.
He equally bemoaned the fact that senior lawyers are also being accused of allowing themselves to be used as conduit pipes for the corruption in the Judiciary.
However, the CJN maintained that the level of corruption in the judiciary is very minute when compared with what obtains in other organs of governance in the country.
He said: “Although I will not behave like the proverbial ostrich and hide away from the reality that some Judges and Judicial Staff are indeed complicit in corrupt practices, however, I must assert that corruption within the Judiciary is only imbibed by a minute minority”.
Noting that as at 2014, there were a total of 1020 Judicial Officers serving in the Superior Courts of Record in Nigeria, with 7000 others in the lower courts, the CJN used the fact that only 64 of them were indicted over sundry acts of corruption within a spate of five years to buttress his point.
“Therefore, corruption in the Judiciary having regard to the number of Judges and the number of those accused of corruption, the percentage is very low.
“While the Judiciary has been in the spotlight of recent public scrutiny, we continue to take active steps towards sanitizing the Bench. Where petitions are received in respect of Judicial Officers, they are promptly investigated via internal procedures put in place by the National Judicial Council and where found culpable such Officers are disciplined in accordance with the said established procedures.
“Under my tenure as the Chairman of the National Judicial Council, we have not shirked this responsibility but faced it head on.
“It is however sad to note that the public officials and persons who benefit from corrupting Judicial Officers are never investigated, apprehended or even prosecuted, even though the Judiciary disciplines its own. The basic question, my lords, ladies and gentlemen is, how can we stop corruption when the scale is seemingly tilted in favour of the beneficiaries?
“While trying to improve discipline within the Bench, the leadership of the Judiciary has also taken steps to enact new Guidelines that will see a more transparent recruitment process, thus ensuring that only persons that are intellectually sound with integrity are appointed as Judicial Officers ab initio.
“It is important to highlight that the Bench is a product of the Bar and unless we work in synergy to ensure that only fit and proper persons remain in our midst, it will be impossible to expect a different Bench when its origin remains the same. I hereby call on the leadership of the Bar to expunge from its ranks, such persons whose conduct may be unfit, improper, dishonest or otherwise unethical.
“The time has surely come for us all to take concrete, meaningful and lasting action to exorcize the pernicious ghost of corruption from the most noble of professions.
“The theme of this event reflects the fact that we must tread the path of decisiveness in the fight against corruption. The event also offers us all the chance to devise means that will restore integrity and probity to our profession while upholding our Judiciary’s reputation, respect and dignity.
“We must not forget that our authority hinges on independence, integrity and impartiality. In the era where Nigerians expect transparency in governance, we must work assiduously to ensure that we arrive at lasting solutions for the stability and growth of the Nation”, the CJN added.
The theme of the NBA anti-corruption seminar was “The Fight Against Corruption in Nigeria: The Way Forward”.
In his address, the National President of the NBA, Mr. Augustine Alegeh, SAN, decried that despite the establishment of anti-corruption agencies such as the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission [ICPC] and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission [EFCC], he said the nation appears to be helpless in its fight against corruption.
He implored the current administration under President Muhammadu Buhari to tackle the issue of corruption vigorously and frontally.
According to Alegeh, SAN, “Successive Governments had been quite vocal in their criticism of corruption and had wasted little or no time to draw up road maps and policies which were claimed to be the final solution to ending the endemic scourge called Corruption.
“However, very little successes were recorded in this regard as these policies were either never implemented or when implemented, were observed more in breach than in compliance”.